Originally created 09/16/97

Violence reminiscent of DSS killings a year ago

The murderous rampage Monday at Aiken County's R.E. Phelon Co. served as a gruesome replay of another workplace-violence tragedy one year ago today that left three social-services employees dead.

On Sept. 16, 1996, David Mark Hill, 37, walked into the North Augusta office of the Aiken County Department of Social Services and shot three caseworkers to death. Mr. Hill apparently was upset that DSS had placed his 4-year-old paraplegic daughter in foster care, police said.

Mr. Hill stood at the cubicle of Jimmy Riddle, who was handling his case, and began firing. Mr. Riddle, 52, and Josie Curry, 35, were killed there. The body of a third caseworker, Michael Gregory, 30, was found in the bathroom of the DSS office.

A year later, Aiken County is reliving the horror. Mary Barton, who was at the DSS office during the shooting last year had put the event out of her mind, but when word spread of Monday's killing spree, the memories resurfaced.

"When something like this happens naturally you think about it," she said. "I hadn't forgotten about it, but it's something I don't dwell on. It's something you want to forget about, but it is impossible not to think about it."

A gunman opened fire at R.E. Phelon, killing one man in the parking lot and three others inside the building. Three more were wounded and taken to Aiken Regional Medical Centers.

Police found Arthur Hastings Wise, 43, the suspected gunman, in an upstairs closet of the R.E. Phelon building.

Ms. Barton said it is disheartening to witness the brutal plight of Aiken County, where she was raised. Just a few years ago, such incidents in the quiet area were unheard of, she said.

"I really do feel for the families and the employees," said Ms. Barton, who now lives in Augusta."Those people work under pressure and getting that way on most jobs. You used to never hear about anything like that. The worst thing you heard about was teen-agers running out of gas and siphoning gas out of people's cars."

Now Aiken County authorities are now faced with another act of workplace violence, before closing the book on last year's frightful episode.

Last year, authorities found Mr. Hill the day after the shootings with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the mouth. Mr. Hill recovered and is awaiting trial at the Lee County Correctional Institution in Bishopville, S.C.

An Aiken County grand jury indicted Mr. Hill in April on three counts of murder, three counts of possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime and one count each of assault with intent to kill, kidnapping, first-degree burglary and illegally carrying a pistol.

Solicitor Barbara Morgan is seeking the death penalty for Mr. Hill.


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